On the surface, hockey is an ugly game; two teams of large, sweaty players skate up and down an ice rink, knocking into each other and trying to put a piece of frozen rubber into a net. Underneath that cover however is a beautiful game, filled with intricate passes, angles of attack, shooting accuracy, teamwork, and saves that seem to defy reality sometimes, like this one.
As the summer has gone on, John and I have exchanged a few e-mails; as I'm still fairly new to writing here at ILWT, it's not easy to come up with topics week in and week out, especially when there's no actual hockey being played. As we discussed possible ideas, we agreed that the summer would be a good time for reminiscing, and it got me thinking about how I became not only a fan of this crazy game, but also one of the New Jersey Devils.
New York Beginnings
Being born in Staten Island, New York and being raised in Brooklyn would have you think I would have become a fan of the Islanders or Our Hated Rivals, but hockey was never one of the main sports on the television at my house. My father was a big basketball fan, and since the NBA and NHL seasons essentially run at the same time, we would be watching Knicks games instead of any hockey. Many members of my extended family were Yankees fans, so baseball would dominate the TV for a good while as well.
I remember fondly riding the school bus on a couple of field trips while in third grade; while they did not meet during the 1995 Playoffs, there were dueling chants of "Let's go Rangers" and "Let's go Devils" coming from all around me. Not yet knowing much about hockey, it meant very little to me as I was uneducated in regards to the teams and the sport in general. That would all change with a Sega Genesis and a copy of NHL 94.
NHL 94 was one of the first video games I ever owned (and still have a working copy of to this day) and it opened up a world to me that I hadn't experienced before. I was obsessed; I studied the game book from front to back, memorized player ratings, and played as a bunch of different teams. Before I could pick one to root for, my family and I moved to Connecticut.
A Jersey Devil in Connecticut
Ok, by this point I'm sure you're wondering, "How in the heck did he become a Devils fan if he moved even further away from New Jersey?" As I started attending middle school, and making new friends in a new state, I learned that hockey was bigger in Connecticut than it was (possibly still is) in the Burroughs of New York. Classmates rooted for a variety of teams; we had Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Penguins, Sabres and even a couple of Avalanche fans who's families had rooted for them from their Quebec days. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who enjoyed not only playing a hockey video game, but watching the sport and discussing it as well.
I knew being surrounded by fans now, I would need to have a favorite team; what middle school student doesn't have a favorite sports team? My decision would coincide with a Christmas present; a brand new Sony Playstation and copies of NBA Live 98 and NHL Faceoff 98. My brother and I decided to live out the fantasy of being hockey players, but we didn't want to play on the same team. He wanted to be the Rangers on the basis of their colors and the fact that we were born in New York. I needed a team; what better than the most hated rivals of those Rangers?
I was familiar with the Devils and the fact that they had won the Stanley Cup in 1995, however I knew little of the team's history. Now in 1999, and with the internet picking up steam, I decided to do research on the team I had chosen to back. I read up on a man dubbed quite possibly the greatest goaltender of all time; I studied the skill-set of The Captain and read of the crushing hits he could deliver; I heard about a little unit dubbed The Crash Line. Mike Peluso's tears in the 95 Finals showed me how much respect members of this organization had for the sport and its ultimate prize, and I began to respect both the way the team did. I began to watch more games than ever before during the 1999-00 season, and I became a huge fan of the A-Line, particularly the rough, tough, productive play of Jason Arnott, who would become my favorite Devil at the time. I became ecstatic as the team moved further and further along in the playoffs, reveling in each victory with my fellow Devils fans at school. I stayed up beyond my bedtime (maaaaaybe without my parents knowing) just to watch games that went into overtime; and then this happened:
A screaming 13 year old me woke up an entire house well after my bedtime because my Devils had won the Stanley Cup. I was grounded for a week; it was worth every second.
A large part of me regrets the fact that I never got to see a game live when I was younger, but it isn't easy to commute from Connecticut, especially when you have no other hockey fans in your immediate family. When word came out that the Devils would be retiring Scott Niedermayer's #27, I made a decision to get tickets by any means necessary for myself and my girlfriend. We wouldn't regret it, as they would raise the banner with us sitting just six rows behind it. It would also be the night that my current favorite Devil Travis Zajac would return (for the first time anyway) from his Achilles tendon injury.
If you pause the video at 1:17, you can see a blurry version of my girlfriend and myself; we're under the MSG+ logo just to the right of the Stars fans in green. This game will always be etched into my mind, as it was the first game I ever saw live, coupled with Zajac's return and Niedermayer taking his rightful place in the rafters alongside Stevens and Daneyko. I will also never forget the most recent Devils game that I went to, as it was the last game of this season against Boston. The first two games I had gone to had seen Johan Hedburg in net; with the Boston game I was able to see Martin Brodeur live for the first time in my life, and from the feeling in the building that night, I knew somewhere in my heart, it would be the last as well. As soon as the Devils announce the games that Marty and Patty's numbers are going up, I'll be getting tickets. After all, this is my team.
Down Memory Lane
While my path to Devils fandom could be seen as unconventional, I wouldn't trade any part of the wild ride for the world. I guess there could be even crazier stories out there, and that leads us to the true purpose of this article. I'd like to hear how YOU became a Devils fan in the comments section below, be it that you grew up in a Devils household, or you have a story like mine of discovering the team on your own. The summer is a great time for reminiscing and for bringing our fan base together with great memories of seasons gone, and I would like to hear what moments in Devils history made them YOUR team.
And A Poll Too!
Back in my last article, I asked for ideas for the next edition of Throwback Thursday. While I loved the idea of the Neal Broten acquisition, a quick Google search resulted in an old article by John showing up at the top of the list. I did like a couple of ideas, and decided to add a couple of my own with the acquisition idea in mind. Whichever option wins the vote will be featured in the next Throwback article.